Author’s program note. In the bright glare of this overheated spring day, they looked faded, needing succor, getting none. Their color, the deepest imaginable red, looked tawdry and inappropriate for such a milieu… the hodge-podge in front of the local convenience store. I was enraged at such lese majeste’, an outrage that offended the princely opulence of the flower… and those who had loved them and loved them still.
Just moments before I saw this dreadful sight, I had been thinking about these very flowers… about how I had always admired them, about how my grandmother had loved them… and ensured that I would love them, too. I was even remembering the riotous display of these flowers in an Illinois neighbor’s yard and how the fastidious and shrewd ants had commandeered them ostensibly for their nutrients, but who can doubt for their rich and textured colors which capture every eye, especially the ants who traverse this beauty at will, untrammeled, at the closest range?
Thus, when I saw the bucket of peony left in front of the store and their wilted dismay, I strode in and demanded that they be put in a better place, a place more in keeping with their renown and a beauty which made even emperors stop and appreciate, glad to be the ruler of a land where so much loveliness was his to behold… and share with the petted favorites of his court.
What the proprietor told me.
Faced with me in irate mode, this was his reason for such treason to a flower he promptly admitted was his personal favorite, enhancing the yard of his own home. Unless he sacrificed some of these sun-afflicted plants, thus creating a captivating (if ephemeral) display, no one would know he had such rampant blooms within, no one would buy them, and all would perish. Thus I knelt down to the very level of the flowers, every springtime of my life caught in their unmistakable perfume. “Their scent is their destiny,” I told Tommy. “Let it fill the store and the people who love these flowers and every memory they conjure will sell them for you.” And so he did…. and so they did.
Peony or pacony is the name for plants in the genus Paeonia. They are native first to Asia, thereafter Europe and western North America . Estimates of the number of species range from 25 to about 40. Peony are herbaceous perennial plants, but some resemble trees which can grow as high as ten feet. They have compound, deeply lobed leaves. Such are the facts about these still imperfectly understood plants. But all this pales into insignificance beside the undeniable impact of their stately flowers… and a scent more alluring than any found on the Rue de la Paix.
With such elements so apparent one knows at once that Peony are special, highly deserving of their place in our gardens and in our hearts. This place is further affirmed by the fact that each new type of Peony developed is more complex, more stunning, more desirable. And so single Peony with names like Athena, Dad, Krinkled White, Scarlet O’Hara and Sea Shell have given way to Japanese, Anemone, Semi-Double, Double, and Bomb-Double (Red Charm, Raspberry Sundae, Mons Jules Elie).
Thus has this peerless flower concocted its own peerage of plants with flowers at once aristocratic and nonpareil. As such you can quite understand their fury at being placed so inappropriately at the convenience store, and left there to wilt, collapse, and die. It was, to say no more, unworthy of them and their high achievement. This achievement is substantial, enviable, and constantly enlarged as the plant and their signature flowers evolve and further dazzle the humans who are such an important part of the Peony and their history.
Not just a pretty face.
It is their flowers and cloying scent which first capture the attention of passers by. They are, by any reckoning, irresistible. But Peony are not just a pretty face or incomparable scent, not by a long shot. To date, over 262 compounds have been obtained from the highly bountiful plants of Paeoniaceae. These include monoterpenoid glucosides, flavonoids, tannins, stilbenoids, triterpenoids as well as, paeonols, phenols, and steroids. Steriods, you say? Indeed… and so the piquant and utterly unexpected picture emerges of sports heroes desiring (illegal of course) enhanced performance taking tablets redolent of the Peony, one of whose attributes as assigned by the Chinese was strength. Not just a pretty face, indeed.
Peony are also bountiful givers of enhanced biological activities, including antioxidant, antitumor, antipathogenic, immune-system-modulation activities, cardiovascular-system- protective activities and central-nervous-system activities. In short, while their stunning flowers and unforgettable scent restore our sense of well being and the necessary harmony which is so important (if elusive) in our lives, the chemical and biological activities of Peony contribute to the health and body wellness we all must have to the maximum degree for the best lived life. It is perhaps the Chinese who have known such things the longest.. Is it any wonder then that they venerate Peony and use the sparse language of their poetry to effect the greatest meanings and incisive images of Peony?
Fan Wei (1760-1820), poet .
No one knows when the very first Chinese poem about the Peony was written. Such things are often lost, becoming part of our unknown legacy. Fortunately Fan Wei’s 18th century poem and Peony drawing were not amongst them. Thus, protected today in the collection of James Madison University they are a thing of beauty which has a good chance to be a joy forever.
“Ode to Peony
I used the brush to praise the blooming peony A cocoon-like bud bursting forth to beautiful flowers Who said the peony is like a maid Her scent and beauty makes the noble palace so inspiring, like a spring breeze.”
Such scent, such beauty summons legions of people worldwide who share these sentiments and crave these attributes. It turns even the least sentimental and sensitive into poets, for there is poetry in all of us…needing only the proper inspiration and opportunity to be released and improve a weary world.
Here is what D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930), whose mastery of the erotic helped free a world from shame at what is only natural, wrote in “A Baby Running Barefoot” (1916):
“I long for the baby to wander hither to me Like a wind-shadow wandering over the water, So that she can stand on my knee With her little bare feet in my hands. Cool like syringa buds/Firm and silken like pink young peony flowers.”
And Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), the great poet of the great American heartland, so beloved of my mother. In “Mammy Hums” (1918) he wrote about “The petals of peony pink that fluttered in a shot of wind come and gone.”
And so, word by lyric word, poets of each generation have seen the grandeur and compelling splendor of the Peony, taking pen to paper in gratefulness at such great magnanimity…. and so must I:
“There! Do you see this great effusion o’er the land? It is the springtime of the year. Peony graces, our great link with generations gone. Its tenacious beauty what they saw what we see what they will see. Peony remembers. Its scent its unremitting gift.”
Now go to any search engine and look for the work of Chinese brush artist Virginia Lloyd-Davis. In “Peony and Butterfly” she teamed up with pianist Josh Harvey. Together they created a place of beauty and peace, a place where Peony reigns supreme and blesses us. Go find it now. Serenity, harmony… and this imperial flower so gladdening to eye and spirit are waiting for you there.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today at http://homeprofitcoach.com/listbuilding